Fitting into established off-grid communities can be a daunting task. Most have established their own set of rules, and most are beliefs represented from the founding members of the communities themselves. While it is a nice idea in theory to live in an intentional community of like-minded, you may find yourself feeling as though you are still living at home with your parents, as you must abide by the rules set out by the community in which you live. This can work ok with people who tend to be easy going and are used to sharing space with multiple people, but for the person who needs their own space such a setting can prove to be disastrous.
So what can a person do who loves the idea of off grid living, but is not sure that they can live with others, (or abide by other people’s rules)? Well, one can create an off –grid community right in their own backyard.
This is exactly what I did. In my backyard, you will find a Rocket Stove that I built myself for under $55. I purchased 24 solid fire bricks to withstand heat, but you can also use red bricks (no holes). You also need a metal mesh grate that will allow air to easily flow through. I chose to purchase a used oven range hood filter (which I got for $1 at the Re-store),but you can also create your own out of a few layers of aluminum foil and poke some holes in it! I also picked up a $5 gas stove burner grate at the Re-Store to help secure a cooking pot on top of the Rocket stove for easier cooking. Rocket stoves are great as they will work even when it is raining or windy, and can reach very high temperatures. Essentially, it can be used for warmth or cooking. They are even fun for the whole family to enjoy an outdoor campfire experience, or to roast marshmallows on. This stove was super easy to make. You take your 24 bricks and crack 1 of them in two. I accomplished this by measuring the centre of the brick and then using a screwdriver tip to etch it down the middle. Do this several times with a little force so that you create a visible line (slightly grooved) down the centre. Then, take a hammer and place the claw portion into the grooved line, and take another hammer and hit the claw part of the hammer with it. It took me a few “whacks” to get it cracked, but for a strapping man, it may only take one good hit! These two cracked pieces will be used in the first two layers of brick that you will lay. So to create the first layer (which will consist of 3 full bricks plus your half brick) you will create a “u” shape with the opening being the front of course. Then you place your metal mesh grate on top of your first layer of bricks completely filling the empty space towards the front (or open part of the “U shape”). You then do the same formation for this second level. Every other level above the first two is 4 bricks, only you do not create a “u shape” this time, but you create a square shape. You will notice that you have one brick remaining. This brick can be used to cover the hole in the bottom-front of your stove, so that you can control the strength and intensity of your fire. To start your stove simply place some wood chips or small twigs through the top, and use a match or lighter to start your fire. The stove works by acting like an air vacuum which channel s heat out through the hole in the top. Do not use this stove indoors or inside a tent as sparks can fly and ignite nearby objects. I built my stove on a bed of play sand but you can build it right on the ground if you like. Some people also place them on blocks to reach a higher elevation. Remember also to always ensure your fire is properly put out after each use, and always have a bucket of water handy just in case. Check with your municipality as well to see if a fire permit is required.
The next item you will find adorning the lawn in my backyard is a solar tire oven. This was super inexpensive to make. I just called my local scrap yard and they were more than happy to rid themselves of an old tire. So the tire was free. I used a 21 inch tire so that it would better accommodate varying pot sizes, but you can choose whatever tire diameter works best for your needs. Then you need a piece of cardboard to place under the tire. I flattened an old box I had kicking round. Once the tire is sitting on top of cardboard you begin to stuff the inner walls of the tire, and the middle (base) with crunched up newspapers. This forms the insulation. Once that is done, you then use heavy duty aluminum foil (shiny side up) and you fill the bottom and top of tire with the foil. Finally you need a black pot. Luckily I had a black pot with a black lid in my collection already. It is important the pot is black to retain and attract maximum heat for cooking. A black pot with a clear lid will also work. I removed the handle off my pot for an easier fit in the middle of my tire. Finally after your pot of food is placed in the middle of your tire, you need a sheet of clear glass that will fit flush on the top of the tire itself. Initially I used a thinner glass pane which I purchased for $5 from a local Contracting Company (who graciously cut it to size for me), and was going to use tape to cover the entire parameter to avoid sharp edges, but my glass ended up cracking as it was too thin. So then I came up with plan B and I finally settled on an old wooden framed window I purchased at the Re-store for $20. This window was approx. 23 x 23 which allowed for a slight over hang on the tire and made it easier to take on and off. The wooden frame also provided more stability and safety. Solar ovens are a great thing to have as a backup if you lose power or just for a unique family activity. You can cook rice (but I suggest use way less water than you normally would on the stovetop), you can make eggs, noodles, vegetables etc. The cooking process takes a few hours. Solar ovens can work as long as there is some sun, even if it is just minimal. Obviously the brighter and hotter the sun is, the better, but it can also work in less than favorable conditions. Even as I write this, I am cooking a pot of rice in my solar oven! Like an indoor oven, the pot inside your solar can get quite hot so ensure you are using oven mitts (or a towel )to remove your pot to avoid being burned.
I also created two tabletop heaters made out of terracotta flower pots. You need a smaller one and a larger one. The smaller one is going to fit inside the larger one. The best way to find the best fit is to turn your larger of the two pots over and measure the bottom circumference. Once you have that measurement you can shop for a pot exactly the right dimensions. I purchased my large pots at yard sales and second hand through personal ads. Large terracotta pots can be quite expensive so I wanted to keep the costs down. I purchased my small pots from a local garden centre at the end of season so I paid under $3 each. You also need a couple of bricks and some tea light candles and a coin. First place your smaller pot upside down using two bricks on each side to hold it up. Then place a coin on the hole located at the top of the small terracotta pot to prevent air flow. Then place larger pot over top of the smaller pot, but this time do not plug the hole (of larger pot), leave it open. You may need to re-adjust your bricks to ensure it is securely holding both pots. Make sure your pots holes line up as close as possible as well. Underneath the pots you will place your tealights. The tealights create heat which will then radiate outward through the terracotta to heat a small room. This can be a great emergency source for heating in the event of power outages or merely assist you in lowering your heating costs. Make sure however, that you check inside the pots regularly because if you see some soot forming it may indicate that carbon monoxide can be accumulating. It is also, a prudent idea to have a battery operated carbon monoxide detector in or around your table top heater. Some people will actually fasten the two pots together using nuts and bolts, but I prefer to keep them apart so that they can be used for other uses as well. Terracotta pots in general, are great items to have on hand. You can also use these same terracotta pots to make an Egyptian style fridge to store and preserve your produce (or other refrigerated items) should your power go out and you risk having your food spoil.
To make an Egyptian style fridge simply take the larger terracotta pot and place the smaller one inside of it. Then cover the top of the small terracotta pot with a cooking pot top of the same size as its opening. Then you simply fill in the space between the two pots with play sand. I prefer play sand because it is clean fill. If you use sand from the beach you may find you have a lot of unwanted hitchhikers that come along with it. Then you take a pitcher of purified water and gently wet the sand. It works great if you slowly pour water evenly in a circular motion around the pot. Do not just pour the water in one spot all at once or you may find water will pool on the top of your sand, or that the small pot will start to float around. You want sand moist not overflowing with water. Once your sand is moist, you can then place your produce in a bag and throw it in the smaller pot and cover it! You can use cotton cloths to drape over the fridge. Voila you now have a working fridge which will extend the life of your perishables!
I also have a rain barrel to harvest my rain which I can use to water my plants in the summer, or to use as an emergency source of water. The barrel I purchased for $25 (which included delivery), second hand of course!
My next two projects will be to create an out-house, as well as a gravity fed shower system inside my home.
So as you can see, you can create a great deal of eco-projects right in the comfort of your own backyard using recycled or donated materials. If you have to purchase them your local Re-store is the way to go! These projects are not only easy to do ,but they will give you and your family hours of enjoyment and peace of mind knowing you have alternate sources to use in an emergency!
I do hope you will find these projects interesting and attempt to create them on your own in your own off-grid community backyard. Happy building!
Living Off The Grid: Idea Of The Past Or Future?
With advancing technology making our lives much easier, is living off the grid becoming an outdated idea of the past? Or, is a minimalist lifestyle key to the future. Jacob Soboroff and Alyona Minkovski are joined by guests Jamais Cascio, Gregg…
Terracotta pots are a must have staple for many how-to eco-projects! They can be used to create anything from tabletop heaters or even to create an Egyptian fridge!
List of Things You Need
For tire solar oven:
For Rocket stove:
24 firebricks or red bricks (solid-no holes)
Mesh steel grate
Gas stove burner grate (optional)
Twigs, wood chips
Lighter or matches
For Egyptian Fridge:
Two Terracotta clay pots ( 1 large and 1 small)
Cover of a cooking pot
For Tabletop Terracotta Heater
Two Terracotta clay pots ( 1 large and 1 small)
Battery operated carbon monoxide detector (recommended)